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One strike from disaster, the Blue Jays pulled off their most important rally of the season on Saturday night in Baltimore, finally putting their foot down to stop the tailspin.
Down two with two out in the top of the ninth after the Orioles launched six home runs, Bo Bichette stepped in with the bases loaded and took ball one. Then, he fouled off seven pitches in a row, battling to stay alive until, finally, an awkward fly ball into shallow right field fell in for a base hit. It was the bounce that this Blue Jays team needed, in every definition of the word.
That tied things up before Vladimir Guerrero Jr. stepped to the plate and did what he always does. Guerrero ripped a two-run double into left-center, building on another massive day that already saw him launch his 23rd home run of the season to jump back ahead of Fernando Tatis Jr. for the Major League lead.
“It was great to see our team celebrating in the clubhouse after everything we’ve gone through this past couple of weeks,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “It was a great team win.”
A mid-June win over the Orioles hasn’t meant much in recent years, but this 10-7 win mattered. The Blue Jays were coming off five straight losses within the division, including late bullpen meltdowns, a sweep at the hands of the Yankees and a 7-1 loss to open the series against the Orioles, who own the second-worst record in baseball. Following that loss, Montoyo met with a core group of players to talk about what had happened, and what needs to come next.
Emotions were running high for a dozen different reasons. The game nearly boiled over in the fourth inning when Alek Manoah, on the heels of allowing back-to-back home runs, hit Maikel Franco on a sinker that ran high and inside. The benches cleared and there was legitimate tension on the field, particularly between the coaching staffs in the middle of the scuffle.
Manoah was ejected after the umpires ruled that he’d thrown intentionally at Franco, which Manoah denied. Instead, Manoah said the pitch got away from him. Catcher Reese McGuire had called for a slider at first, but Manoah shook him off for the fastball, wanting to challenge Franco inside. Manoah would have been the first one leaping over the railing to celebrate the late rally if he hadn’t been ejected, but instead, he had to hold his own celebration in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse.
“That’s just a lot of heart, man,” Manoah said. “Day in and day out, these guys work their tails off. As long as you can keep this team in the ballgame, make pitches and limit the damage, there’s always a chance with those guys. That’s a lot of heart. We’re a team that really loves going out and playing with each other. Nobody really needs to be the hero. Everybody can do their part and it all comes together.”
Prior to the ejection, Manoah’s outing wasn’t pretty, but not much about this game was. If Anthony Santander squeezes his glove on Bichette’s fly ball that fell in, then we’re talking about the Blue Jays’ sixth consecutive loss. Manoah allowed four home runs, and the Orioles hit six in total on Saturday, but the Blue Jays found a way to win.
Lately, it’s been the other way around, with the Blue Jays starting hot and fading down the stretch, wasting a strong start or standout performance. The bullpen has been at the heart of many of those meltdowns, so it was refreshing for the Blue Jays to see Jordan Romano slam the door shut with two shutout innings, striking out three.
“I think we’re a playoff team. We just need to do the little things,” said Marcus Semien, who homered twice. “We have some guys coming back, so we’ll get our full roster back, do the little things right, take it day by day and we’ll see where we’re at in August. It’s still June. I don’t look at the standings or our record yet. It doesn’t matter yet.”
This is a pivotal stretch for the Blue Jays, who are still a game below .500 and need to make up serious ground in the American League East, regardless of when they look at the standings. After a quick stop in Miami, though, they’re back home to face this same Orioles team for four games. Montoyo thinks this win is the start of something, and it needs to be.